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Ethics commitee charges Jennings with misconduct

After two days of closed meetings the Standards and Ethics Committee unanimously voted June 9 to charge Jennings (D-Jamaica) with creating a "hostile work environment" for two female aides, a Council spokesman said.

Another charge of inappropriate conduct was leveled against the lawmaker for reading a Biblical passage to Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Brooklyn) immediately following a councilwide meeting in which Jennings was removed from a committee chairmanship, the spokesman said. Gonzalez interpreted the passage, which referred to punishment for "the ungodly," as a threat.

When asked for comment at an unrelated event in Jamaica last Thursday, Jennings refused to speak about the charges. He has denied the allegations in the past.

The charges were based on reports compiled by ADR Associates, a Washington-based mediation firm hired by Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) in January to probe the allegations.

Two of Jennings' former female aides filed a federal harassment and discrimination complaint against him last year claiming Jennings forced the staffers to clean his house on mornings that they picked him up.

The complaint also said Jennings made sexual jokes and gave one woman a Caribbean doll with a giant phallus after returning from a trip there, a committee member said. One woman said she was fired after she rejected romantic overtures from Jennings.

The report mentions at least five women who complained about Jennings' behavior, according to a Newsday article, which could not be independently corroborated.

Jennings has 30 days to respond to the charges, and an evidentiary hearing will be held later this summer before the Standards and Ethics Committee to determine if disciplinary action is necessary. The full Council will ultimately decide any action against Jennings.

"I hope he gets an opportunity to make his case and that all the facts will be revealed to us," said Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who said he had not seen the report. "People's lives are affected."

Allegations raised by another woman, a City Council lawyer, were also considered by the committee, but it was unclear if her complaints were included in the charges. A memo written by the lawyer on Sept. 26, 2002 said she had told Miller during a May 2002 meeting that Jennings had used an expletive to refer to her during an angry phone call, grabbed her wrists while relating his sexual preferences and invited her on dates.

She has filed a lawsuit against the City Council, charging Miller did not immediately investigate her complaint and assigned her to work with Jennings. The speaker has said he first heard of the allegations in August 2002.

"I have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination, and I have confidence in the committee's decision," Miller told the TimesLedger Newspapers.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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